A group of educational leaders and innovative thinkers gathered in New York September 19 to discuss the value of high-stakes testing, trends in education, and the role of technology in learning.
John Merrow, an education reporter for PBS’s NewsHour and president of Learning Matters, a nonprofit production company focused on education, moderated the symposium, “Education: The Next 25 Years, The Next 25 Minutes,” which was sponsored by the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education.
In his opening remarks, Lloyd Waterhouse, president and CEO of McGraw Hill Education, stressed the importance of education, stating that lifetime earnings in 2011 were nearly three times higher for someone with a college degree than someone with a high school diploma.
Talk of the Chicago public school strike, which ended on Tuesday, led to a discussion about the flawed nature of standardized testing and the negative perception of teachers. Though all panelists agreed that testing student achievement is important, they added that teaching to the test can be problematic. Sal Khan, founder and executive director of Khan Academy, a nonprofit online organization that provides free, high-quality education, said he observed middle school students in an Oakland, CA, math class who lacked basic algebra skills, and whose teacher was too busy prepping students to pass their standardized tests to address these problems. Jeff Livingston, senior vice president of College and Career Readiness at McGraw-Hill Education, also pointed out that passing these tests is even more vital for low-income students because they’re faced with yet another barrier to escaping poverty.
Meanwhile, Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland in Baltimore, talked about the importance of giving teachers enough support and guidance. He attributed poor student performance in math and science to teachers who also lack a solid education. He emphasized that educators must not only master their subject areas, but also be equipped to address the needs of students with challenging backgrounds or who lack motivation. Hrabowski also encouraged giving high-performing teachers incentives to continue doing well, much like university professors.
Livingston also said it was easy to blame teachers for the poor quality of education that children receive, a problem that often stems from an understandable fear that an inadequate education will result in a decreased quality of life for their children. Yvonne Chan, principal of Vaughn Next Century Learning Center Chan, a charter school that serves 3,000 students in Los Angeles, stressed the need to “enlarge the circle of responsibility,” rather than simply holding schools accountable for student achievement. Above all, panelists highlighted the importance of building communities for the benefit of both students and educators.